It’s not easy to suffer well.
To get through a painful experience or a season of painful experiences.
The ones who do are often people who used their time of suffering to serve and help others who were suffering in similar ways or had experienced some other kind of suffering.
If we allow them, seasons of suffering can be opportunities made ready for us to make our world a better place by serving people in need.
The God who suffers
The early followers of Jesus believed that suffering could be redemptive. That personal suffering could be used to rescue or bring relief to others who suffer.
They believed this because of the suffering Jesus personally experienced and the incredible amount of suffering he relieved in the lives of countless others.
How did Jesus suffer?
We could speculate that, more often than not, it was under the surface.
Jesus would spend many hours bringing healing and comfort to the sick, the spiritual outcasts, the culturally and economically marginalized. And then he’d go off alone, sometimes with the disciples, but often alone.
One follower wrote that he often went off alone to pray.
It seemed that Jesus’ suffering was often a suffering of loneliness.
Yes we can still say that God was with him, but even so, loneliness can persist even in the presence of God.
He was “the man of sorrows, familiar with suffering,” as Isaiah the prophet once wrote.
Somehow, in the middle of great suffering, Jesus did not stop his life’s work to help restore the soul of Israel. They were “like sheep without a shepherd” and he had come to “gather them like a mother hen comforting her chicks.”
And of course, for Jesus the most obvious time of suffering, perhaps the hardest of them all, was the last twenty-four hours leading up to his death on a cross.
He knew that religious leaders were conspiring against him and that one of his own had agreed to turn him over.
He knew his disciples still didn’t understand the ramifications of his actions or where it would lead him.
He found himself, yet again, alone.
Alone before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish council).
Alone before King Herod.
Alone before Pilate.
Alone when he was flogged.
Alone when he was crucified on a Roman cross.
For the early Christians, the strange, mysterious and yet comforting thing was that in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, they had come to believe that their God had suffered.
Suffered alongside them.
Suffered on their behalf.
To give his life for the benefit of others.
The Way of Jesus
Not only did the life and death of Jesus demonstrate to the early followers that suffering can be redemptive, but it inspired them to use their suffering for redemptive purposes. That their time of suffering can and should be used to help others.
When they were persecuted.
When they were sick and in trouble.
When they were alone and discouraged.
When they needed inspiration and leadership.
The followers of Jesus were convinced that the way of Jesus meant that in the middle of their own suffering, they should go into their communities and their world and look out for those who were suffering, and then help them, restore them, and love them.
To do it in Jesus name.
To do it in with the energy of the spirit of Jesus who strengthened them and motivated them.
This, they believed, was the Way of Jesus.
This was the Way that suffering turns into hope.
Pause and pray
Take some time to consider how you might engage in redemptive suffering this week. Consider activities or things you could do that might relieve the pain and suffering of others. Remember too that you have suffered and that that others have been there for you and helped relieve some of your own pain and suffering. And perhaps, take some time to think about the suffering of Jesus and what it means for you. Let the suffering in his life and death inspire you and lead you to work through and overcome suffering in your life. Remember too, that suffering did not have the last word. Nor does it today.